Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, Bedell is an interesting spot on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Sub. It's an area that has rich history. Now, as much of its old infrastructure has been removed, it's also a testament to how railways have evolved. Small towns are rarely much more than a passing landmark to freight trains these days and Bedell is no exception. There are no diamonds here, the interlocking is long gone, the station is only visible in old photos and much of the former Prescott Sub connection has been removed.

So what is there to see in Bedell these days? Well, in the last few years at least, there was a fair amount to see, to be honest. The Canadian Pacific has been very busy reshaping the Winchester Sub, which connects Montreal with Smiths Falls. The double tracks have been slowly merged into a single track governed by modern signalization. Bedell retains some extra trackage, as the railway still makes use of passing sidings, but most of the old remnants of the Bedell rail yard have disappeared. 

The image above is a shot I took in February last year as maintenance of way crews continued their work in the area. Much of the consist was parked on the South Prescott Spur. The caboose, which had the modern CPR letting on it, seemed to be the crew breakroom, where they could escape to a warm place and get out of the howling winter winds. You can see the smoke rising the smokestack, indicating that there is something cooking or running inside the old car. The earliest photo of this caboose I could find was from 2004, meaning it's been assigned to engineering services for nearly two decades.

This shot above shows you a hint of the gondolas on the South Prescott Spur. The entire consist was being marshalled around by a flatbed truck equipped with flanged wheels for use on the rails. I was disappointed to see this. It would have been cool to see one of CP's old MoW locomotives on point, possibly with some old multimarks on the long hood, but it was not to be.

What's also striking about this image is the fact that so many old ties were piled up in the area. In the several times I have been to Bedell in 2020 and 2021, the amount of rail ties was pretty impressive. It seemed like this was the spot where many of the old ties were dumped. The shot below was taken in July 2020. This pile was just the tip of the iceberg.

I haven't been to Bedell in more than a year to see what it's like these days, but seeing those cabooses when I did was incredibly gratifying, especially for someone who is old enough to remember when trains still had cabooses. I remember the debate when railways unions pressed their cases about the issue. I still have a pin somewhere that says "Trains are safer with a caboose." It was given to me by a Teamsters union representative that was pleading its case at a Sarnia mall in the 1980s.

When you drive through Kemptville these days, you wouldn't know you were in a railway town. The last remnants of the old Prescott Sub were lifted shortly after I took this photo in 2014. In fact, you won't find that old industrial building anymore either. It's all been razed. Nothing but a flat expanse of development land for sale. 

Despite the removal of much of the infrastructure at Bedell, it still remains one of my favourite spots to sit trackside. Go there in the summer and listen to the sound of the wind swishing through the trees. It's a very peaceful spot. Catching a train there is tough, given the decreased frequency of traffic, but the newly installed modern signals will give you some clues. You can see these signals safely from the Bedell Road crossing, which might be able to let you know if you will be waiting an entire afternoon or whether you might be in luck. 

You see? Progess isn't so bad.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part I

This post was supposed to be the first stop on my blog's reunion tour, as I called it when I restarted things in August 2021. Since then, I have accumulated much more material, which has pushed back this post for months and now more than a year. It's not a bad problem to have.

Bedell, Ontario, a spot along the Canadian Pacific Railway's Winchester Subdivision. Bedell once housed a station and an active rail yard. Over the course of my extended hiatus from blogging, I did manage to visit this spot a few times. Truthfully, I wouldn't have been able to visit this spot were it not for the fact that I had surgery on my knee at the Kemptville District Hospital and subsequent follow-ups with my surgeon a few times. That meant a few free passes to railfan at a time when I would usually not be able to get away from Ottawa.

Those who know their history know that Bedell once boasted a station, a tower, an interlocking crossing between the Canadian Pacific and the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway and later a diamond that connected the CP Winchester Sub to the railway's Prescott Sub. Read about the history of Bedell's rail operations here.

The Prescott Sub lasted until the late 1990s, when it was finally deactivated and the rail removed south of Ottawa. The rail in Ottawa was spared, some of which became part of the O-Train Trillium Line while the remainder was used by Ottawa Central and then CN in its local operations. A small portion of the Prescott Sub still ventured into Kemptville as the North Prescott Spur. That spur was lifted several years ago. The South Prescott Spur is still hanging on, as a turnout for eastbound locals on the Winchester Sub. That spur serves CP customers in Oxford Station.

So, what's left in Bedell these days? Not much but memories and a few ghosts no doubt. I've been here a number of times and detailed the ongoing process of rails being lifted and area being cleared of anything resembling a rail yard. 

This shot above was the scene on November 30, 2020 when I was in Kemptville for an appointment, which led me to Bedell, of course. Throughout 2020, CP maintenance of way crews were quite active in Bedell as the Winchester Sub was single tracked in many places, due to modern signalization improvements that do not require two tracks. For my purposes, I was interested to see the two old yard tracks removed on the north side of the area (left on the photo). One of the tracks was once clearly labelled as a bad order track. You could see the sign from the side of Bedell Road. The south track with gondolas marked the first time I have ever seen cars parked in this area.

The North Prescott Spur was being used that day as a staging ground for this maintenance of way consist, including a genuine caboose. I was quite surprised to see the last vestiges of the CP multimark on this car. The white scheme with no identifying marks or numbers was quite odd, although it might have been a case of a car being repainted after being heavily marked by graffiti. 

Here's a closer look at the caboose. You can see from the ends that its original yellow paint scheme is clearly visible. As if a caboose on a main line wasn't odd enough, this one had two paint schemes. I was disappointed that I didn't see any freight trains pass by, but this was a great consolation prize, to be sure. 

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little sad for the ghosts of Bedell. At one point, this was a real community gathering spot, where families embarked on long journeys or reunited. It once saw upwards up 30 trains a day. By most counts, it now sees anywhere from five to seven, based on what I hear from various railfans. Occasionally, there will be a seasonal extra, such as a semi-regular ethanol unit train, but the frequency is not really conducive to regular railfanning.

This Soo Line gondola has definitely seen better days.
Progress or is this the end of an era? Depends on your perspective.
Despite the fact that very little is left in Bedell from the area's heyday, it's important to understand today's reality. Canadian Pacific is definitely a railway in growth mode, even if it isn't evident in this area. The railway's purchase of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway (formerly Montreal Maine & Atlantic) gave CP its transcontinental connection to the East Coast once again. The railway has been promoting its new eastern terminus as a competitive advantage for shippers (read: intermodal and containers). The railway also clearly sought to establish a link to Mexico with its prolonged struggled to acquire Kansas City Southern.
So what does this have to do with Bedell? Well, if the minds running CP have their way, the railway is clearly going to be busier as a true transcontinental transportation concern once again. That could mean a few more trains passing through Bedell. They might not stop there anymore, but the ghosts would likely notice the increase and smile.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Guest Post: More GP9 memories from across Canada

I seemed to have hit a sweet spot in my previous post about the history of the venerable GP9 locomotive. As I mentioned in that post, this old relic is fast disappearing from most major railways, given its age. The last GP9s produced in Canada came off the line at the old GM Diesel in London, Ont. in 1963. CN and CP have used them for decades, although there are none left on CP and only a few dozen left on CN rails.

I shared a few photos of my meets with these engines over the years, including on the CP, CN and even the Goderich Exeter Railway. After I published that post, I received interesting feedback from a few fellow bloggers in appreciation of these geeps.

It occurred to me that perhaps my generation of railfan will wax poetic over these first-generation diesels the way previous generations bemoan the loss the steam locomotives after the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have to admit I don’t understand the fascination with steam locomotives at all, given my age and my lack of experience with them trackside. However, given my fond memories of old GP9s and even SW1200s, maybe I’m not all that different from steam fans after all.

One of those who seemed enthused about my GP9 retrospective is Steve Boyko, author, poet and prominent rail blogger extraordinaire. Most people who come to this blog will know Steve from his long-running railway and photography blog, It was one blog that directly influenced my decision to start The Beachburg Sub. Steve was kind enough to share a few of his own shots of GP9s from his time trackside, which I am pleased to share below.

I’ll start with a shot Steve took in Winnipeg, where he lives. The descriptions below the photos are Steve’s, not mine. Read on:

CP operated many GP7s and GP9s in Winnipeg in the first decade of the 21st century, in local switcher service and local yard service. They frequently operated in pairs, like these two about to cross Plinguet Street, south of Whittier Junction.

An overhead view of CP 1540 in yard service, October 29, 2011.

Many CP switchers met their end here in late 2009. A scrapper used a siding in Fort Garry to scrap quite a few locomotives over a few months. I documented many from a distance, including this massacre of four CP GP9s – 1558 and 1556, bracketing two SOO GP9s, 4202 and 4204.

You might wonder why a CN GP9 is at the famous McAdam, New Brunswick train station – a former bastion of CP power. This line has been owned by shortline NB Southern Railway for quite a while, and they leased a few CN GP9s for local switching in Saint John. Occasionally, one would be put on the Saint John-Brownville Junction freight for extra power. However, they are not permitted to cross into the U.S., so they would be dropped in McAdam. When I visited McAdam on July 19, 2008, 7038 was being used to switch the yard.

This is a very pedestrian shot of CN 7059 passing the Staples store near Island Yard in Saint John, coming back from perhaps switching the Irving refinery. I include it because I have one of the number boards that used to grace this locomotive, which has since donned Cando colours and a new number.

CN often used a pairing of GP9s and a slug for local switching in the Winnipeg area. Here are two pairings, with 7213 at Transcona (with modern paint scheme) above and 7254 in Winnipeg below.

Here's an oddity below. Read Steve's caption of this scene below the image.

I’m not sure why this GP9 was on top of the hump in Symington Yard in Winnipeg. Typically, hump locomotives were GP38-2 locomotives at this time, but for whatever reason, 7258 and slug 268 were up high.

For a long time, CP 8251 was one of the very few active locomotives around Winnipeg still bearing a multimark. Here a rainbow graces the scene after a summer storm. CP 8251 was retired in 2013 but has been leased to Viterra to serve a grain elevator.

My thanks to Steve for sharing these photos. It’s a real treat to feature photographs and information outside my usual haunts here in Ottawa and southern Ontario. In keeping with this post’s theme of GP9 photos, I’d like to share three additional GP9 photos that didn’t make the cut in the previous post. 

The first is an old shot my Dad took at the GEXR yard in Startford in the early 1990s. Note the faded Shakespearan name "Falstaff" on the lead engine, in appreciation of the railway's hometown.

A few years ago, Eric Gagnon, author of the equally acclaimed Trackside Treasure blog and several railway books, shared this photo print with me of GEXR GP9 177 leading a string of old EMD power in switching the salt mine on the Lake Huron habourfront in Goderich. Date unknown, but it appears to be a 1990s shot. 

Finally, I'll add one last shot of my own that I did not manage to squeeze into my original post on these engines. Here's a great shot of GP9 720 and slug 223 leading 4761 in Sarnia Yard in August 2014.

So that just about wraps up my tribute to the venerable GP9. I am also working on a similar post about the equally venerable SW1200 and its family of switchers. Stay tuned for that one a little down the road. My thanks to Steve Boyko, the original Train Geek, for sharing his photos this week and his contribution to the cause on this blog. And thanks to Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure. It's been years since he shared a bunch of prints with me. I finally have the chance to share one of them.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The GP9: A Scrappy Survivor

When I was visiting another blog a few months ago, I was interested in a comment about the fast-fading GP9s still out there in service. It hit me then that I have tonnes of photos of this unit from my years of sitting trackside. It also hit me that I might not be able to see these old beasts much longer. So I decided to create a small tribute to this unsung hero of railroading, which has done yeoman's work for decades without much glory.

The GP9 officially ended production at General Motors Diesel in London, Ontario, in 1963. The engine first sported a 16-cylinder, 1,750 horsepower engine running on four axles, not factoring in the B units and slugs that were produced as well as the CN GP9RM rebuilds. Some of the slugs are still in service in certain CN yards. Various sites online peg sales of the engine at 3,500 units in the United States and nearly 650 in Canada.

GM London's production of this unit actually ended four years later than EMD in the United States. The 2022 Canadian Trackside Guide says CN still has 29 in active service. CP has retired its fleet, with the bodies and chassis of the old locomotives used for its fleet of GP20C-ECOs. What seems strange to me is when I find references to these engines being preserved. It makes me feel old.

Searching through my photos from my teenage years, I found two early 1990s photographs of these geeps in Southwestern Ontario. The first shot is from Canadian Pacific's Windsor Yard, where GP9s were once a common sight. The most prominent GP9 in this shot is CP 1619, with a fast fading action scheme still visible, complete with the multimark at the rear. Beside it you can see CP 8226, in a more recent action red scheme. This newer one lasted a long time, as you can see it in action on the Galt Sub in this photo in 2008. Although these two units look similar, note that they are numbered in different series. Scanning through some sites online, it seems CP had these geeps numbered in the 1500s, 1600s and 8000s. I tried to find a more recent shot of 1619, but was no able to find anything worth a link. You can also see a piece of a lumber car to the left in this shot from 1991. Note CP's unique high number board plates and classification lights above the front windows.

Closer to where I grew up in Sarnia, I did come across GP9 rebuilds a few times in the 1990s, although at that time, CN's stables of SW1200s shared local switching duties with the GP9s. Here's one of my earliest shots of a GP9RM from Sarnia Yard, when you were able to roam the yard more freely.This shot below is of CN 7226 with slug 259 in front. It was an unforgiving day for sun when I took this shot in 1992. No amount of photoshop could fix this. You can see how CN's number boards were not mounted on extra high plates like their CP counterparts. In fact, their number boards were much smaller and oval shaped.

The slugs are very useful in yards like the giant Sarnia Yard, as their traction motors allow the GP9's horsepower to be distributed more widely, which gives the unit more leverage to pull long strings of cars at low speeds. Great for switching duties. There are still a few being used in Sarnia.

This shot was taken at a time when CN had yet to privatize and seemed to operate as a very different railway. It was not uncommon at this time to find 15-20 units all parked and idle near the CN roundhouse. This is not the case today.

Fast forward to the 2000s and you see that these old beasts are still kicking up a fair bit of smoke in Sarnia Yard and in CN's local operations. This shot below is one of my favourites, taken just south of Corunna near the Rokeby Line, as a CN local switched local petrochemical industries in August 2017. You can see three GP9s in this shot, two are able to be identified: 7038 in the lead and 7278 hitched elephant style as the second unit. The third unit, which is clad in the safety stripes, is not identifiable. 

This brings up another interesting point. These units, which have been able to soldier on thanks to CN's rebuild program, can be found in their original mainly black scheme with the wet noodle on the side and the more recent safety stripes scheme. I have even seen one in the CN privatization anniversary scheme, but I have never seen one in the modern scheme.

Here's a GP9 in the CN 15 scheme, celebrating the railway's privatization. This is not a terribly common scheme. I was lucky to run into GP9 7256 a few years ago on a brief stopover at Sarnia Yard in July 2021. It was pulling a long string of hoppers in the yard, with a carbon black from Cabot Carbon first in the consist behind 7052.

I should mention as well that, in the two years I lived in Peterborough in 2003 and 2004, CP's affiliate, the Kawartha Lakes Railway, often used GP9s and even a few SW1200s to service local industries on the line, from Havelock to Peterborough. I wasn't in the habit of photographing trains at this time, so I have no hard proof of these observations other than my memory.

One of the great things about these old beasts is they put on quite a show, if you are a photographer. You might recall a post from several years ago titled Smoke! where I was treated to quite a show in Sarnia Yard in October 2016. Here's my favourite shot from that post, below. The GP9 in the shot is coupled with what looks like a GP38. The real smoke is all from the old man, though.

And speaking of those slugs, here's a more recent shot of a GP9 and slug still working the rails in Sarnia Yard in 2015 near the old roundhouse. Notice the old SW1200s in the background, which are either being repaired for industrial use or possibly scrapped for parts.

Of course, it's not just on mainline railways that this unit survives. The GP9 has long been a staple of short line railways, like the Goderich Exeter Railway. I caught this unit idle in Goderich in August 2014. Note its paint scheme. GEXR was once famous for painting its GP9s in a unique green and taupe scheme, with certain units being named after Shakepearean references. Many of the railway's units were later left in their leasing unit or previous railway schemes.

Surprisingly, even CN's operations up in Ottawa have made use of a GP9 on several occasions. Recently, the railway has made use of multiple GP38s, including some former GATX leased units. But as recently as 2017, the regional operations out to Hawkesbury and Arnprior were being handled by units like 4139, seen here near the Queensway overpass in the Greenbelt in 2017. I find this fascinating, as these units are not usually synonymous with long runs, like the 40-km turn out to Arnprior and the long 80-plus-km haul out to Ivaco in Hawkesbury. That's a lot of distance for a yard and local engine.

So why is this little runt of a locomotive worth discussing, remembering and preserving? Well, for one, it is fast becoming an antique, as the last Canadian units made are already 59 years old, and those are the youngest of the bunch. A quick glance through some sites online will show you that this unit propelled General Motors' EMD into the locomotive production lead, which was not the case before the GP9 was built. This brief article discusses how the market for road switchers was still very much the domain of Alco/MLW's RS series until the GP9 came along.

CN purchased 349 of these units while CP purchased 200. CP's numbers might be a reflection of the large number of MLW RS units it brought before the GP9 began production. Other Canadian buyers included New York Central, which purchased 12 for its Canadian operations in Ontario, Northern Alberta Railways (10), Ontario Northland (60), Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo (3) and the Quebec North Shore & Labrador (54).

When you do see one of the surviving GP9s roaming around, take a shot. With their unique curved cab roofs and chopped noses, they are pieces of living history that are sure to fade quickly in the coming years. I am lucky that I was able to see so many of these engines in my time trackside. That's worth celebrating.

Friday, September 16, 2022

The old guy in the lead

On a trip back from Southwestern Ontario in July, I encountered this strange consist idling on an overpass over the 407, near CN's Brampton Yard. There are a few things about this consist that caught my eye after my wife snapped a few shots from the passenger side of our car, which was headed east.

I liked how the old GP9 was the lead unit of a three engine consist lashed together elephant style. The engines in the image are GP9RM 7029 followed by GP38-2 7509 and GP38-2 7512. Look closely and you can see the differences between 7509 and 7512. One noticeable change is the extended roof overhang on 7509, which 7512 does not have. Also, the placement of the horn on each is different, as 7512 has it mounted on the cab while 7509 does not, although it's hard to judge by the image. Also, there's the obvious difference in paint schemes between the GP38s and the GP9, which looks tired.

A shot from further back gives you a better idea of the size of the container train on the parallel track.

The noteworthy aspect of the image in my mind was that the GP9 is in the lead. This is not all that surprising at first glance, as I'm sure it just happened that this is how the locomotives lined up when they coupled them together.

But given that CN has only 29 of these old units left on its system, any sighting of these engines is worth noting these days, before they disappear forever. Over the years, I have come across a number of GP9s in action in Windsor, Sarnia, Lambton County and even here in Ottawa in recent years.

The GP9 is a survivor, many of which were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although CP's fleet has disappeared and morphed into the GP20 ECOs, the CN roster continues to toil in its yards scattered throughout its system, but for how long.

I have been thinking about these old warhorses in recent months and thought that this image taken in late July might be a perfect opportunity to do a little retrospective on these engines and my encounters with them over the years. 

That will wait for the next post.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Summer Observations in Ottawa

I will admit that I have mixed feelings about CN's weekly train out to Arnprior, CN 589. While it's fun to catch this train, as you almost always have to earn it, it seems like it's sometimes the only thing us rail enthusiasts in Ottawa want to talk about.

Recently, I was taking my daughter to soccer and heading down Carling Avenue around the intersection with Herzberg Road in Kanata, when I saw CN 589 heading east back toward Walkley Yard after making its weekly run to Nylene Canada. My daughter in the passenger seat was able to capture a few images from our vantage point with an iPhone. Granted, these are not ideal shots by any means, but any sighting of this train is always a plus in my book.

You can tell my windshield has seen its share of bugs. The image is a bit grainy and blurred, but you can see the usual two-engine consist of a CN GP38-2 and the former GATX GP38-2 leading the way home. That cyclist nearly ruined the shot, but we just managed to squeeze the train in. There are five tank cars in tow, although the much-talked-about GT caboose is nowhere to be seen. I've noticed on Facebook in recent weeks that the caboose has yet to make another appearance in the west end, which makes my recent meet with it all the more special.

This (above) might be the second best shot, but it's all relative when you're shooting through a bug-stained windshield with an iPhone. Here's a tip I've learned about iPhones. They are perfectly acceptable to use if you are fairly close to a train but the shots pixelate in a hurry any time you zoom in, especially with the older models. I use them in a pinch when I don't have my proper camera, but I always resist the temptation to use the zoom for this reason. 

In recent weeks, people that follow the weekly Arnprior Turn have been wondering why they haven't been using the Grand Trunk caboose. I was in the area of Walkley Yard and managed to capture a fleeting glimpse of the caboose in the yard in late August. 

This image was taken at the end of Albion Road on public property. I know some people still make their way into the yard on the service road that is an extension of Albion Road. I can's stress it enough that this is not a great idea. That road is more than likely on private property and is not a public road. Don't risk it.

While I was at the end of Albion, I had a fairly clear view of the new O-Train diesels that will soon be plying the Trillium Line all the way from Bayview to the southern extension past the airport. From an aesthetic point-of-view, these new units are much better looking than the electric trainsets that make their way east and west on the Confederation Line. I won't get into the recent mechanical failures and technology failures that took the O-Train out of service yet again. The best thing going for the O-Train right now is not that many people take it, as most public servants continue to work from home. The uproar over this malfunctioning line would be a lot louder if more people actually used it. But, for now, here's one of the new diesels.

I should mention that, with the ongoing construction happening on the Trillium Line, which is behind schedule, one of the developments that will affect railfans is happening in Walkley Yard. The city is building a maintenance facility in Walkley Yard that blocks much of the view railfans once had from the Bank Street overpass. This is unfortunate from our perspective, as this overpass did once offer a reasonable view of Walkley Yard from a safe, publicly accessible vantage point. This means you will not be able to get a view like this anymore.

This shot, from 2017, can no longer be duplicated, as there is a large maintenance facility on the left track, which blocks much of the view of the yard. Thankfully, the vantage looking west toward Walkley diamond is still unobstructed, so that area is still in play for photographers. 

Recently, I spent some time in Waterloo, Ontario and saw its own light rail system, dubbed Ion, in action. My friends in that area say the system runs very well and has rarely had any operational problems since it began operating on a full-time basis. I will explore this system in a future post.

Finally, the big stir this summer in Ottawa was caused by the Canadian Pacific bringing some business train equipment to town, behind its F-series units. Some have called this the Royal Canadian Pacific train, which I'm not sure is entirely accurate. I did managed to snap some shots of it from Conroy Road from quite a distance, thanks to the zoom on my camera. The CP police officer, who told me he was from Regina, said the train was in town so the railway could entertain VIPs as part of its sponsorship of the CP Women's Open golf tournament at the nearby Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. 

The next day, August 29, the train was scheduled to head back west and leave Walkley Yard in the morning. A group of railfans waited at Fallowfield Station, but the train had not shown up yet, as it had obviously not been given clearance between Via's many corridor trains to and from Toronto on the Smiths Falls Sub. I stayed as long as I could, sacrificing my lunch hour, but I only saw Via Train 52. I did like that it was being led by a wrapped F40PH-2. I don't have that many shots of these old warhorses in the wrap design. It was better than nothing, but I was quite disappointed to have missed the CP heritage equipment. Oh well.

One last shot of the train beside the station as the passengers boarded.

Those are a few observations from my limited railside adventures this summer in Ottawa. Much of my material for further posts came from outside Ottawa in recent months. Stay tuned for some material from Waterloo, the GTA, Kingston and even a few items from the Sarnia area. And with an imminent trip to the United States looming, I hope to add some railway photos from the heartland of America in Indiana. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Sometimes, you get a second chance (Part II)

As I mentioned in my last post, there are rare times when your train karma will grant you a second chance. I stumbled across one of those rare opportunities on a July trip to Sarnia last year with my family, when I chanced a last-second trip to the Sarnia rail yard.

In my previous post, I talked about a train heading for the tunnel, the front of which I had missed by seconds. I was disappointed to have missed the shot, but then something unexpected happened. The train began to back up. It didn't back up far enough for me to capture the engines in any meaningful way, but it at least allowed me a few going away shots. The train then inched forward. But then it backed up again. This happened for a while, which had me confused. (Note: I have since come to understand that part of the train was being scanned deep in the rail yard) The train was clearly not backing up to keep a switch to the main line clear. It was sitting over a busy switch at control point Hobson. So it was clear to me there was no meet happening with an eastbound train, since that would require this westbound to back up past the switch.

I stood there wondering what I could get in front of this train legally and safely, without resorting to trespassing (most Sarnia railfans will tell you not to even try this, as the CN Police are quite strict about any incursions onto CN property in the area).

So, I decided to try a last-ditch long shot. And surprisingly, it resulted in a shot I have never captured before. I went to the Donahue Bridge, a link between a south end residential neighbourhood and the northern edge of the Chemical Valley. The bridge actually soars quite high above the descending CN track in to the Paul M. Tellier Tunnel.

Unfortunately, a pedestrian walkway on the tunnel side of the bridge has been closed off for quite some time, which eliminated that possibility. However, on the other side of the bridge, facing the rail yard, there is a pedestrian sidewalk. 

There's also a tiny stub-end city street that is used exclusively for trucks that use CN's CargoFlo service. That street was option number two. Lucky for me, the tunnel-bound train was still positioned at CP Hobson, obviously waiting the green light to proceed into the tunnel and head into Port Huron, Michigan. 

Here's my attempt at a very long shot from the Donahue Bridge. You can see the Sarnia Station, signals and an SD70 on point. On the left side of the photo, you can also see a small piece of trackage that is the Point Edward Spur, which serves the Cargill grain elevator on Sarnia Bay. There's also a great deal of poles and lights in the shot, which isn't ideal, but it gives you the impression of a busy yard. I like this shot, but wasn't entirely satisfied that I had the shot I wanted.

That's when I decided to try a shot from the sidewalk near Union Street, a tiny little dead-end slab of asphalt used by trucks to connect with cylindrical hoppers on a spur. You can see my previous visit to this operation in this post. But for our purposes in this post, here are my two attempts at getting some the CargoFlo infrastructure in the shot. You can also see Sarnia Station, the sign for CP Hobson and the trackage leading up to the CargoFlo operation. That turnout you see will lead you to CN's refuelling pad and the Lambton Diesel roundhouse operations. This area is a no-go, so stay on the nearby road if you want to have a look.

I like how the bushes and the loader eliminate the clutter a bit. Also, this angle means the white sign (look just left of the SD70) doesn't block the view of the engine as it did in my earlier shot. For my second attempt, I zoomed a little closer, making sure not to focus too hard on the loader. I like both shots for different reasons, but in this one, the train is definitely not as clear. And the zoom function is distorting the rails a bit.

Getting the camera to properly focus was a tricky task, as there was so much in the frame. All of these shots taken from the bridge and the end of Union Street are quite busy. You can see Sarnia Station, the CN Hobson sign (white, next to the locomotive) and also the Indian Road overpass in the distance. 

Since I was in the area close to the CSX Clifford Street rail yard, I drove to the end of the street to see if there was anything happening in the yard. I was not surprised to find the area pretty quiet. I was hoping that I might get lucky and happen across some CSX activity, but it was not to be. The CSX Sarnia Subdivision has seen some increased activity of late, as the railway has been carting away materials salvaged from the ongoing demolition of the Lambton Generating Station near Courtright (More to come on that in a future post). That process is expected to continue for a year or more, which means local railfans might expect to see a few different consists on the CSX line, most notably gondolas. I was hoping that I might be able to see something like that, but all was quiet. 

Oh well. You can't have it all.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Sometimes, you get a second chance (Part I)

Rail karma is something I'm sure we've all experienced. You just miss the head end of a train or you get trackside just in time to see the flashing end-of-train device winking at you in scorn as it disappears down the tracks. Then there's the times when you sit trackside and nothing materializes. I can't tell you the number of times I've experienced all three. 

That was why, when I arrived at the Sarnia rail yard for one last chance to see some trains on a family trip last summer, I was disappointed to see a very long freight train slowly making its way west toward the tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. I decided to watch it anyway, to see if maybe there was a DPU unit or some interesting rolling stock.

Then something happened. The train stopped. Then it began to back up. Could this be a second chance for me? Well, yes and no.

Let me explain.

As I was shooting any type of rolling stock I found interesting, I noticed the train was slowing down. Then it started backing up.

The backup move allowed me to snap a few shots of rolling stock, like this CN coil car, with the maroon IHB cover. Again, this was all very routine for me. I was just hoping that the train might back up enough that I could get a shot of the head end. Sadly, it stopped just short of the end of the platform. I walked along a public road as far as I could to get a shot of the two units from public property, but the train was just not cooperating.

This was about as close as the crew came. Over the course of ten or 15 minutes, the train backed up and then moved forward several times. More recently, readers have told me that this is due to the railway scanning its trains before they cross international borders. In this case, it wouldn't back up to the platform or move past CP Hobson sign. So, I decided to improvise and see if I could use the signal gantry near the platform to get some worthwhile shots.

This shot above had the most blue in it, which was nice, since I was shooting after 8 p.m. and the daylight was beginning to recede while the shadows grew longer.

Here's a shot from the platform. I do like the reflection of the setting sun against the side of the train, but I don't like that a pole pretty much blocked out the power from this vantage point. All in all, it was a frustrating few moments.

On one hand, if the train started moving, I had a great chance to get to a vantage point near the St. Clair Tunnel and get my first ever shot of a train entering the tunnel. On the other hand, if the train sat where it was, I was limited in my ability to get a shot from in front of it. After a few minutes, I decided to risk my position at the station, figuring the train was not going to back up and give me the shot I wanted.

I decided to risk getting a vantage point near the tunnel to get ahead of this train. 

But it's never that easy. Railfans in Sarnia know that the pedestrian walkway near the tunnel has been closed for some time, essentially, eliminating that potential spot. That left the Donahue Bride. This bridge provides a link over the tunnel track between the actual residential south end of Sarnia and the northern edge of the Chemical Valley. 

Luckily, there is a pedestrian sidewalk on the bridge, which affords you a long view of Sarnia Yard and the long descending track leading to the tunnel. 

There were two things I had to consider. Was the train in a position where I could see it from the bridge? And was it going to stay there? Also, how effective could my image be, considering how much I had to rely on the zoom function? 

I was about to find out. I'll leave that to the next post. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The traffic jam

This March, while I was visiting family in the Sarnia area, my brother and nephew took me on a tour of their favourite spots in the area, including many railside haunts. On our way home, we saw a CN train perched near Telford Road, just east of the limits of Sarnia Yard. My nephew was excited by this slow moving train, as we had not seen any freight trains at speed during our day of railfanning in the area. This was the train as it approached the crossing and then stopped. Note that the Strathroy Subdivision is double-tracked here, and there are trains on both tracks visible in the image below, taken from the Confederation Line.

Just a few minutes earlier, we had left Sarnia Yard, where another freight train, this one heading west toward the Paul Tellier Tunnel, also stopped before proceeding down the grade to the tunnel. A few railfans in the parking lot explained to us that the train was backing up and proceeding forward for a reason. At first, I'll admit that I was curious as to why this train would be doing this, unless they were assembling part of the train that I could not see. The railfans said they were "x-raying" the train. I'm not exactly sure that is the right term, but the sense I got from what they told me was the the train was being scanned before it headed into the United States. Here's a shot of the consist inching forward.

At either end of the yard, there were two enormous freight trains, one due east and one due west. Neither was moving. I joked to my nephew that it was a genuine rail traffic jam. Of course, this was not the case, as precision scheduled railways do not usually have trains with massive dwell times taking up space in congested rail yards. Sarnia Yard usually has its share of cars in the yard, but it's never what you would describe as congested or backed up. The blocks of cars appear very organized, at least to my untrained eye. Still, it was an odd sight to see two freight trains, on both tracks on the main line, apparently motionless. 

Moving back to the train due east near Telford Road. Here is a shot as it moved ahead past the end of the westbound train from the image above. I find it interesting whenever I see autoracks behind the engines. It's not something that was terribly common when I was growing up. These cars always seemed to be blocked onto the end of a train. Not the case anymore.

You can see in the image above that the fields looked to be almost ready for planning, even in mid-March. Going back to the westbound train, which we watched for awhile before giving up, here's a shot of the head end through the gantry, which governs trains movements around the tunnel. The bridge also controls the connections to the converging St. Clair River Industrial Spur (and by extension, the CSX Sarnia Subdivision) and the Point Edward Spur, both of which merge into the yard west of these signals.


While I was at the yard, I did spy a tank car that had an old logo on it that is not terribly common these days. I remember these CGTX tank cars when I was younger, but they have slowly disappeared over the years. It was cool to spot one. I know it might seem like a mundane image, but I think it's more important now to capture images of old rolling stock than ever.

These images we got from the yard and from Telford Road rounded out a great day or railfanning, even if the actual number of trains we saw was pretty light. You can check out our other adventure from this day in the post Next stop: Glencoe

One last shot of an old GP9 idling behind the old roundhouse. This engine is on the approach track that trains off the St. Clair River Industrial Spur and CSX Sarnia Subdivision use to access Sarnia Yard. Sadly, this engine didn't move either. It seemed like a gridlock kind of day when nothing was moving. My nephew wasn't thrilled. I was just happy to get a few images.